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Notre Dame Football

Banged Up Notre Dame Still Fighting and Growing

November 2, 2021

It's Navy week and that means the triple-option is coming to South Bend. 

Marcus Freeman's defense will need to be sharp, but so will the Irish offense as offensive possessions will likely be at a premium. 

The good news for Notre Dame is the Tommy Rees' offense has taken significant strides over the last three games, including rushing for 293 yards against North Carolina, which seemed like a pipedream a month ago. 

Andrew Kristofic starting at left guard and Joe Alt at left tackle has allowed Notre Dame to get a push, but right guard Cain Madden has come into his own after figuring things out early in the year. 

"I just think there's been a more consistent understanding of what we're trying to accomplish offensively and much more of an identity," explained head coach Brian Kelly. "That identity and then settling into the roles of those guys that are up front." 

Jack Coan has also come into his own as the Irish have added a little more tempo into the offense. True freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner has also started to show his maturity and his grasp of the playbook as of late.

Bucher's touchdown pass to Avery Davis was a prime example of where he's at in terms of running the offense as the play was supposed to be a run. 

"Our misdirection counterplay was outstanding in terms of its efficiency but providing a number of different options," Kelly said. "The touchdown pass that Tyler threw, that was a run play, but they left the No. 3 receiver uncovered."

On defense, Notre Dame entered the season with a linebacker problem of finding roles for talented players. Eight games later, the situation has changed as the linebacker corps has been decimated by season-ending injuries to Marist Liufau, Paul Moala and Shayne Simon. 

JD Bertrand was a guy the Irish staff had been high on, but the Atlanta native has been forced to play out of position with no backup, which is something Freeman and Kelly are working to fix. 

"JD has played a lot of snaps, but we backed him off last week," explained Kelly. "He had 49 live snaps compared to the week before, where he had 73. We have seen maybe that we need to take some of the load off these guys relative to the snaps that they've been taking." 

Kelly also had more concerning news for the linebacker group as Drew White is also battling an injury and probably shouldn't have played last week against North Carolina. 

"I'd be less than truthful if I said (White) was 100% for last weekend's game and probably in some instances if we could, we wouldn't have played him," Kelly stated. "Trying to keep him out of the lineup is another thing.

"He battled through it. I think he feels so much better this week, even after playing, than he did last week. So the expectations are really high for him to be closer to where he has been."

White being healthy this weekend will be critical for Notre Dame as he's been phenomenal against the triple-option dating back to 2018 when he made his debut for an injured Drue Tranquill against Navy in San Diego. 

"Drew has been somebody that has really picked it up," explained Kelly. "I don't know if you remember it or not, but Greer Martini was one of those guys that really had the option down, had the sense of where the ball was going and Drew has that. He just has a really good sense.

"He got his kind of baptism in the option when he came in for Drue (Tranquill) was injured. But after he (White) battled some injuries, he really dedicated himself to being physically stronger and fit." 

The Irish might be banged up at key positions, but Kelly’s team isn’t rolling over as we saw in 2014 and there could be potential help in the wings as freshman Prince Kollie is still an option behind Bertrand. 

Kollie has played on special teams this fall, but a two-week absence to start the year due to COVID protocols put him behind at a crucial part of the season. 

"Each player, each freshman, each young player has a journey that is unique to themselves," said Kelly. "His has been one that has taken some time. It does not mean in any way we're down on him or all those crazy narratives. He's done really well. It's been smaller steps because it's been a transition for him.

"This is a week where you want somebody who has seen it before. Drew White has seen it before. Bo (Bauer) has seen it quite a bit. He's been on a journey that I think is really positive. Throwing him out on triple option would probably not be very fair to him, but he'll be ready to help him on special teams."

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